Friday, October 23, 2009

Devil in the White City

I thought it was interesting that everyone hated Eric Larson so much in our class. This is the second time I’ve read Devil in the White City, and admittedly it wasn’t nearly as captivating the second time around, but I didn’t detest him the way we seemed to. I did notice, after we pointed it out in class, that he overdid his prose once in a while, but I think that is probably part of the mass market appeal. People don’t want to buy a non-fiction book en masse if it’s written like a non-fiction book. And people also don’t think that those tactics which we as writers see as a lame cop out are so lame. The average, non-writer person would probably see the points that we detested as a great example of some beautiful language. (Trust me you’d be surprised at the type of prose people find compelling. Sometimes I can’t understand how they can see value in these things, but look at any NY Times bestseller list and you’ll see what I mean.) So I feel like we gave Larson a bit of a hard time for nothing. He has to sell books first and foremost, or his publisher wouldn’t want him and then he’d be an unemployed writer like the rest of us. I know it was cheesy, but I don’t think it was that bad.
I also think it was interesting that people thought the Burnham sections got boring. It could be my obsession with everything Chicago that makes me love it, but I was way more into what the architects were doing than what Holmes was up to. By about midway through the book I could care less. Yeah, that creepy guy is killing another innocent girl. **insert gruesome, speculative prose here** okay, now let’s move on with the fair already! I think part of what fascinates me about this book is that you can walk around Jackson Park and the area where the fair once stood in all of its gargantuan white glory and not have the slightest idea that anything ever stood there. I know that the first time I read the book, I had to go down and walk around in the area just to try to catch some long lost ghost vibes from the city. I didn’t find anything, but I still thought it was cool. Now, as we stand on the brink of an Olympic bid, I think about how that relates so much to Devil in the White City. Will we, if we get the Olympics in 2016, allow our memories to fade into disrepair and rubble like the Chicago of the past? I hope not. I don’t know how I even feel about the Olympics coming to the Chi, but regardless it is a possibility. And I hope that if we do get them, there is as much excitement and commotion (and less killers) as there was at the Colombian Exposition. So yeah…that’s my thoughts on Larson, and Devil in the White City, and the Olympics to a degree.

1 comment:

  1. Ellen--you're on a blog rampage! Yeah. I greatly admire the book--it made me see, think things that were new. I am aggravated with Larson. I just wanted him to do better.

    HOWEVER, I challenge anyone to tackle this story and do better. It's easy to sit in our English class and say he sucks. But it's very hard to wade through years and years of notes and research and make this complex mosaic.

    But I am still frustrated with the book.